The Pharisees were sure they had Him this time. There was no way He could answer this question without offending either one side or the other. He'd have to make enemies. So they sent their fiercest questioner and a few Romans and asked Him,
Teacher, is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
There's no way around it. Jesus will right now, once and for all, declare whether He is first a resident of Rome or a citizen of Heaven. There are no two ways about it. Or are there?
Show me a coin.
That was His first answer. Show Me the coin that you use to pay the taxes. Let Me see it. He turned the coin over and over in His hand, studying carefully both sides of the piece of precious metal. Then He looked up from the coin into the eyes of the Pharisee and asked him,
Whose image is on this coin?
Caesar's, of course. It is, after all, a Roman coin. And this was the custom of kings and emperors and governors all throughout history. They marked the items in their own territory with their own image. They had their own face carved into the coinage. They sealed their documents with their own unique signet ring, a special ring that was pressed into the wet mold of a document to create an impression of the king's mark. Anything sealed in such a way could not be undone. So of course Caesar's face was all over his currency; it was Roman currency.
Then give to Caesar what is Caesar's.
This could have been the end of it. Case closed. Conversation done. Question asked, question answered. But that's not Jesus' style. That's not how He operates. Just as every turned to walk quietly away, their question answered with amazing wisdom, their latest effort to trap the Teacher defeated, Jesus adds...
And give to God what is God's.
Slowly, they started to turn around and look at Him again. Their eyes met His. A deep love burned inside His eyes. The coins were Caesar's because they had his image all of them. They knew that much. And the faithful Jew, when Jesus sprung this last sentence on them, knew also this:
Let us make man in our image....
They heard those words from Genesis 1 echo through their hearts, even before Jesus's pointed words sank fully into their heads. Each and every one of those present had the image of Caesar on his coins, but he had the image of God on his very being. Jesus, in one powerful breath, declares Himself both a resident of Rome and a citizen of Heaven, and He calls all those who hear to be the same.
Give your money to Rome; it was theirs to begin with. Money is just a thing, it's something man came up with all on his own. So what does it matter if you give it back to him? But you...you are the image of God, something God came up with out of His incredible love. So give yourself back to Him. All of you. For this is what matters most.
It's interesting how often we read this story and easily see the first conclusion - Caesar's face is on the coin; it's his coin; pay his taxes with it - and then read Jesus' more poignant second statement...and start looking around, trying to figure out what is God's in this world. It's interesting how often we conclude that giving to God what is God's means finding God's hand, His design, in the world around us and giving honor to that in some way. But what Jesus says here is not to look for God's hand in the world; He says to look for God's image in the world.
And there's only one place to find it: you. Me. Men and women. Humankind.
So give to Caesar what is Caesar's, all the things this world has come up with for its own intents and purposes. But give to God what is God - the sacred men and women created in His own image.
Start with you.